“Is it so hard? Can’t you just play along?” This is a quote from “Otis” a Black Comedy favorite of mine. The main character, Otis, has created a basement dwelling fake world in which he mimics his popular brother’s high school past. All he wants is a prom date who can play along and feed his psychotic desire to live in his brother’s footsteps.
This past weekend, I took a trip to Boone, NC with two college friends of mine. We don’t see each other much and I was looking forward to a weekend of reminiscing and catching up sans toddler responsibilities. Unfortunately, I found myself being forced to play, play along as a super American consumer.
I suppose it was my mistake to assume that the rental of an early 1900’s log cabin in the woods would be a perfect setting for long talks by the fire and an escape from civilization. Unfortunately, the crackle of the (gas) fire and the sounds of nature were rudely replaced by the droning television set that seemed to never be turned off.
The television has become a comfort blanket for one of the friends in our group of three. She lives alone and admitted that if she is home, the tv is on. I suppose that normal conversation is just too tense to handle without that warm, fuzzy blanket. I was sucked into the vortex of TV watching in the form of a “Friends” marathon. I found myself thinking of exiting out the back door to escape to the screened in back porch. There, I could have listened to the sounds of the first fall leaves hitting the ground. Once through the screen, I could have made contact with mountain water flowing through the creek just yards away. I could have sat by the algae pond and watched dragonflies buzz and skim the surface of the water. I could have gazed into the reflection of the mountaintop in the pond’s still water. Instead, I found myself trapped inside our historical cabin wondering how Ross got Rachel pregnant. *Sigh
True, I had the option to escape and enjoy the beautiful setting around me…but I kept telling myself how rude it would be to just disappear away from the friends that I had planned to see. So, I sat on the couch wrapped in my own cabin provided blanket, not catching up with the type of friends I had hoped for. I thought of interrupting the program with conversation…but each time I gazed over to the other two friends who sat on the couch opposite mine, they seemed content and entranced with their connection to the tele-blanket. What is a counter culture girl to do?
Lucky for my over-expecting self, one morning my friends both decided to walk across the street to the gas station to buy a soft drink. They asked if I wanted to come along…and I told them I’d like to stay behind and go exploring around the exterior of the cabin. This little solo, mini adventure of mine was like medicine to me. I felt like I could breathe again as I flipped my flops through the dew covered leaves. I slid down a slight embankment and found myself beside an amazing display of nature. There were cattails and tall reeds. I could see the top of a mountain in the distance that was beginning to change into it’s fall coat of colors. A soft green grass coated the little path leading around the edge of two mirrored ponds split by a man-made fire-pit of river rock. Simply magical. I looked over the ridge toward the back of the cabin from where I stood near the fire-pit and instantly associated it with a sort of toxic prison. It was where the TV had claimed its prisoners. It didn’t know I had escaped….but DAMN…I would have to return to it’s clutches to sleep.
This is how strongly against television I am when among a group of people. Why sit “Alone Together”? Were we truly “hanging out” and who in the HELL forgot to tell me that they had invited the TV? Watching television together with a gathering of friends you have not seen in awhile is just sad to me. Have we completely lost touch with each other to the point where we can’t even be comfortable enough in each others presence without a stay-at-cabin nanny sitter? That television, it makes everything comfortable, right? Soothing and calming in that you don’t have to make eye contact or come up with any original thoughts what-so-ever. Again…*sigh. Sad isn’t it?
After my little nature getaway behind the cabin, I decided that it was best that I return to play along. I returned to see that the gas station was able to persuade them into some junk food to go along with their sodas. After ranting about the beauty behind the cabin, I was able to steal away the friend of mine who I could tell also felt a bit off-put by the presence of the un-welcome intrusion. My 7 month pregnant friend walked through the woods with me (on as slight of an incline as we could find) to the beauty of the cabin’s backyard. She gawked at the beauty and we sort of split up to experience it individually. She would point out bits of nature that she wanted to share and I would do the same. I spotted a toad on a log that she hadn’t seen, and she noticed that the ponds had tadpoles in them. We weren’t able to stay long before she was ready to sit down. On the way back I mentally congratulated myself for not venting about our other friend’s neediness for television. I tend to complain about the other friend (who had remained inside to continue watching Friends) to preggy friend often, and feel that she is often upsetted by the constant griping I unleash when TV girl is not around. I figured it would be best to spare the upset of a pregnant friend and to keep my gripes to myself (and my husband and my blog). This was not easy. I am typically no good at holding in my true emotions and have always spoken my mind. I feel as if she could see that I was a bit anxious to switch things up, however, because once inside she pushed for us to play a board game. I was thankful.
I had a hard time breaking into the game because I was still pretty grumpy about not being able to let out my frustration verbally without causing utter chaos on our friendly little trip. I got a little snippy when TV friend started asking questions about the rules of the game before I had finished reading them. I caught myself and realized I was sorta being a bitch when they both got quiet and stopped talking. I broke the silence with some stupid joke and then luckily found that all was well again. Oh…did I mention that the TV was still on as we played the entire game? I figured that would be a given…but I suppose it is important to the contents of this blog and the scenario of cabin life.
We played the game with breaks of distraction. People forgot it was their turn because they were watching their other Friends. FRIENDS….how ironic. Slowly, we got through the game. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really enjoy it because of the TV. In my ‘friends’ defense: I never asked for them to turn it off. Why? Because I feel I am always the one who is constantly unable to play along with the American game. I figured I’d try to not be the cliche’ party-pooper and cause disruption of their norm. I wanted us to have a good time, and figured that a good time typically was not seeded in moral dilemma.
The television was not the only rudely American thing I decided to just “play along” with. I also found myself having to zip my trap over the food choices that were put into the cart for our ‘mutual’ meals at the cabin. I opted to purchase cheese instead of Processed American Imitation Cheese Food. I ponied up and offered to buy the milk so that I could make sure it was organic. Back at the cabin for lunch time, I had to put a new lock on the trap when I offered to heat up the processed tacos in the oven instead of the microwave and was vetoed because “I always do it this way.”
The examples I have listed here are truly minimal in amount to the massive amount of events, outings, and conversations that I had to work hard to “play along” with the entire weekend. I found myself mentally drained on a severe level once I returned home. I had to detox in a scalding bathtub full of water and had to keep a short leash my trap once it was unlocked and opened again so that I wouldn’t pass along my frustration of fury to my loving husband. I feel as if this blog has helped to take the last little bit of that frustration away.
What did this weekend teach me? I have changed my life and my beliefs in ways that have isolated me from being capable of true small talk and general consumerism. I cringed at the touristy store prices and had to constantly remind myself that “I could totally make that” or “I can find that cheaper on Ebay or in a thrift store.” Luckily, I got out of the entire weekend for just under $200.
This weekend also taught me that the point has come in my life where I just CAN’T put myself in situations where I am forced to just play, play along without an inevitable mental draining of authenticity and simplicity. When I am forced to be one of the masses, I seem to ooze buckets of this sick puss of discomfort. I feel queasy with guilt over how I am not living the way I feel is right.
Just after the puss is released, I find myself doing some microscopic ‘self’ work. “Am I really the problem here?” “Why do I have to be so difficult?” “Why did I have to tell them, in detail, the difference between store bought eggs and backyard chicken eggs without their asking?” “Why are they looking at me like I am a conspiracy theorist when I tell them that I haven’t owned a microwave in over four years?” The list of self-check questions goes on…
Don’t worry, though, like-minded friends… FRIENDS has not rotted the truth from my mind. I don’t feel guilty about being different. I know that my life IS different from what is considered “normal” and that I have isolated myself from being able to blend with the masses. Thank goodness. I think that this weekend showed me that the break has been made. I am not the same silly, clownish college girl who devoured Ramen Noodles and frequented Denny’s. I do not have the same illogical belief that all food is “gonna be okay” for you if it comes from a store and that the government will always take care of us and protect us no matter what. I have changed. I have cleansed my mind and my body of all of the imitations and have began to consume a hell of a lot of real. Feels good.